Childhood Obesity Linked to Future Heart Disease

Researchers have linked youth obesity to adult heart disease.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:25 AM

Dec. 5, 2007— -- Being overweight or obese as a child increases the risk of heart disease in adulthood, a new study suggests.

Children who are overweight are more likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease as adults compared with their skinnier counterparts, researchers from Denmark report in a study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The finding could be especially relevant for the United States, where growing numbers of obese children have medical experts worried about future health consequences -- and it could amplify calls for families, communities and governments to take action.

"A small increase in body weight substantially increases heart disease later in life," says Dr. David Ludwig, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School, who wrote an accompanying editorial to the study.

"If childhood obesity markedly increases heart disease risks, we are looking at a huge public health problem," he says.

Researchers followed 277,000 Danish school children and found that overweight boys between the ages of 7 and 13, as well as overweight girls between the ages of 9 and 13, had an increased risk of both developing heart disease and dying from it as adults.

The older the children are, the higher the chance for later heart risk, the researchers also found. So, for example, a boy who was heavier than his peers at age 7 had a 5 percent increased risk for later heart disease, but a boy who was heavier than his peers at age 13 had a 17 percent greater risk.

"The study seems to underscore what we knew tends to happen in adults -- obesity increases your risk for heart disease," says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"Children who have been obese for much of their childhood will enter adulthood with chronic health problems that will only continue if their BMI remains high."